A Guide to Careers in Medical Communications
Have you ever considered a career in medical communications? Perhaps you’re a recent graduate looking to combine your interest in medicine with something a little more creative. Alternatively, you could be an experienced practitioner seeking a new challenge, or even a commercial or client services lead pondering a change of direction.
In this guide, we take a closer look at the various career paths available within medical communications, as well as the skills and behaviours you will need to stand out.
Why choose a career in medical communications?
At its core, medical communications is about raising awareness of therapies and medical devices that could transform or, in many cases, save people’s lives. Despite the pressure of delivering high-quality work to tight deadlines, the potential impact of your work can make it an incredibly rewarding career.
“You’ll be helping brands fulfil the ambition of the scientists who developed them: to transform the lives of patients with an unmet medical need.”
It is also an attractive option for anyone looking for variety in their work. Whether you go into account management, medical writing or design and development, you’ll deliver a range of campaigns and projects for leading brands, while at the same time learning about new medical conditions and treatments. The size of the industry and demand for specialist roles also opens the door to attractive salary packages.
What does a career in medical comms look like?
If you pursue a medical communications career, you’ll typically find yourself working for an agency of some kind. Therefore, it’s worth being aware of the different types of agency that operate across the industry.
Some agencies specialise in medical education. They advise pharmaceutical companies on how to educate their customers (e.g. doctors, nurses, pharmacists, patients) about the benefits and risks of new medicines or therapies. These agencies also produce journals and learning resources, in addition to posters and presentations that can be used at conferences.
At the other end of the scale are full-service agencies, offering an array of services including medical education, public relations, digital marketing, branding and advertising. Other agencies may simply focus on one of these areas.
Whether an agency is independent or one part of a larger group, it will always have the same overriding cause: to help clients achieve stakeholder engagement for their healthcare or pharmaceutical products. This will involve a combination of effective strategy, well-planned marketing campaigns and high-quality educational material.
What types of career are available?
There are various routes available to those looking to pursue a career in medical communications, but they can broadly be categorised into the following:
The rewards of driving a client’s business forward makes account management one of the most exciting and fulfilling roles within medical communications. To ensure projects are delivered on time and budget, you’ll be liaising regularly with other team members, compiling cost estimates and maintaining regular comms with the client. Account managers typically progress to become account directors, which involves a greater degree of strategic thinking.
Medical writers are tasked with identifying and communicating a client’s key messages in a way that resonates with stakeholders. The majority of their work will involve writing, proofreading and editing copy across all materials, from in-depth scientific journals to articles for a client’s website. Some agencies employ both medical writers and editors, whereas others will combine the two roles.
Design & Development
As a designer, you’ll have an opportunity to flex your creative muscles, whether it’s visualising a client’s website, creating graphics for presentations or laying out the pages in a medical journal. Developers, on the other hand, are responsible for building digital sales materials that align with designers’ visuals and successfully engage potential customers.
What do employers look for?
Most agencies require writers to hold an MD or PhD in life sciences or another medical subject, while a BSc is typically the minimum requirement for account managers.
While not impossible to get a writing job without a PhD, doing some work experience in either publishing or pharmaceuticals will put you in a stronger position, especially if you’re competing with candidates who have doctorates or medical publications to their name.
Joining an agency at entry level can also be a good way of moving into one’s chosen specialism.
“Be open to wide-ranging jobs as a means to get into good companies. When you’re in a good agency, it is easier to pivot roles than it is to start afresh. For example, if you want to be a writer, the best way to start is often working as an account executive.”
On a basic level, it does help if you enjoy writing and are able to listen to a client or medical expert; in order to successfully communicate their opinion clearly and concisely. Excellent research skills and attention to detail are also important, likewise a solid understanding of medical statistics.
Other transferable skills that can set you up for a successful move from academia – or another career – into medical communications include:
- Presentation skills
- Project management
- Digital skills
Above all, however, entry-level candidates should have excellent communication skills, as well as the enthusiasm and commitment to develop a career in medical communications. You need to show you have researched the sector and the agency you are looking to join, giving them confidence in your credibility as a candidate.
Start your career in medical communications
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in medical communications, don’t hesitate to visit our Careers page and get in contact – attaching a CV and examples of written work where appropriate.